Migrants and refugees will face digital fortress in post-pandemic EU | Migration news

As the world begins to travel again, Europe is sending migrants and refugees a strong message: Stay away!

Greek border police fire bursts of deafening noise from an armored truck over the border in Turkey. Mounted on the vehicle, the long-range acoustic device, or “sound cannon”, is the size of a small television set but can match the volume of a jet engine.

It is one of a wide array of new physical and experimental digital barriers being installed and tested during the calm months of the coronavirus pandemic at the 200-kilometer (125-mile) Greek border with Turkey to prevent people from entering the European Union without documents. .

A new steel wall, similar to a recent construction on the U.S.-Mexico border, blocks commonly used crossings along the Evros River that separates the two countries.

The nearby observation towers are equipped with long-range cameras, night vision and several sensors. The data will be sent to control centers to report suspicious movements using artificial intelligence analysis.

“We will have a clear ‘before the border’ picture of what is going on,” Police Major Dimosthenis Kamargios, head of the region’s border guards, told The Associated Press.

Police officer Dimitris Bistinas uses a long-range hearing aid, attached to a police vehicle, while on patrol along the Greek-Turkish border near the town of Feres, Greece [Giannis Papanikos/AP]

Futuristic surveillance

The EU invested three billion euros ($ 3.7 billion) in research on security technologies in the wake of the refugee crisis in 2015-2016, when more than a million people – many of them fled the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – fled to Greece and other EU countries. .

The automated surveillance network being built on the Greek-Turkish border aims to quickly detect migrants and refugees and deter them from crossing, with river and land patrols using searchlights and long-range acoustic devices.

Key elements of the network will be launched by the end of the year, Kamargios said. “Our task is to prevent migrants from entering the country illegally. We need modern equipment and tools to do this. “

Researchers from universities across Europe, working with private companies, have developed futuristic monitoring and verification technology and tested more than a dozen projects at Greek borders.

AI-powered lie detectors and virtual border guard interview robots were tested, along with efforts to integrate satellite data with images from land, air, sea and underwater drones.

Palm scanners record the unique venous pattern in a person’s hand for use as a biometric identifier, and the makers of the live camera reconstruction technology promise to erase the foliage virtually, exposing the people in hiding near border areas.

Tests were also carried out in Hungary, Latvia and elsewhere along the eastern perimeter of the EU.

Migrants arrested after illegally crossing Turkey to Greece stand behind a fence in a detention center near the village of Fylakio, on the Greek-Turkish border [Giannis Papanikos/AP]

‘Test field for technologies’

The more aggressive migration strategy has been put forward by European policymakers over the past five years, funding deals with Mediterranean countries outside the bloc to hold migrants and refugees and transforming the border protection agency from the EU, Frontex, from a coordination mechanism into a full-fledged multinational. security force.

But regional migration agreements have left the EU exposed to political pressure from its neighbors.

Earlier this month, several thousand migrants and refugees crossed from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in a single day, prompting Spain to deploy the military. A similar crisis unfolded on the Greek-Turkish border and lasted for three weeks last year.

Greece is urging the EU to let Frontex patrol outside its territorial waters to prevent migrants and refugees from reaching Lesvos and other Greek islands, the most common route in Europe for illegal crossings in recent years.

Armed with new technological tools, European law enforcement authorities are leaning more beyond borders.

Not all of the surveillance programs tested will be included in the new detection system, but human rights groups say emerging technology will make it even more difficult for refugees fleeing wars and extreme hardship to find safety.

Patrick Breyer, a German EU lawmaker, has taken an EU research authority to court, demanding that details of the AI-powered lie detection program be made public.

“What we see at the borders, and in the treatment of foreign nationals in general, is that it is often a testing ground for technologies that will also be used later on Europeans. And that’s why everyone should care, for their own sake, ”Breyer of the German Pirate Party told the AP.

He urged authorities to allow extensive surveillance of border surveillance methods to address ethical concerns and prevent the technology from being sold through private partners to authoritarian regimes outside the EU.

Police patrol along a steel wall on the Evros River, near the village of Poros, on the Greek-Turkish border [Giannis Papanikos/AP]

“ Dehumanize ” people on the move

Ella Jakubowska of digital rights group EDRi argued that EU officials are embracing “techno-solutionism” to sideline moral considerations in dealing with the complex issue of migration.

“It is deeply disturbing that time and again European funds are invested in expensive technologies that are used in such a way as to criminalize, experiment and dehumanize people on the move,” she said.

Migration flows slowed in many parts of Europe during the pandemic, interrupting an increase recorded over the years. In Greece, for example, the number of arrivals fell from almost 75,000 in 2019 to 15,700 in 2020, a decrease of 78%.

But the pressure will return for sure. Between 2000 and 2020, the global migrant population grew by more than 80% to 272 million, according to United Nations data, rapidly outpacing international population growth.

In the Greek border village of Poros, the breakfast discussion in a café focused on the recent crisis on the Spanish-Moroccan border.

Many homes in the area are abandoned and in a state of progressive collapse, and life is adjusting to this reality.

The cows use the steel wall as a barrier against the wind and rest nearby.

Panagiotis Kyrgiannis, a resident of Poros, says the wall and other preventive measures have put an end to the crossings of migrants and refugees.

“We are used to seeing them go through and through the village in groups of 80 or 100,” he said. “We weren’t afraid. … They don’t want to settle here. Everything that happens around us is not about us. “

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